Not far from the razzmatazz of the Cannes Film Festival, which took place last month, is a corner of Provence that is as tranquil as it is undiscovered.
Set among the pine-dotted hills behind Saint-Tropez is a large country estate that has been in the same family for over a hundred years. It is now for sale in its entirety for €7.5 million (£6.6 million) with Home Hunts, or as two separate manors, Domaine du Paradou and Domaine de la Sauvagère.
The estate effortlessly recalls a bygone age when the Riviera was becoming the chic holiday destination for the cognoscenti: Coco Chanel had a home here, as did Pablo Picasso and Somerset Maugham. Sir Winston and Clementine Churchill visited regularly; the former prime minister loved to paint the colours of the Mediterranean scenery.
Clementine Churchill was a regular guest at Domaine du Paradou as she “was a close friend of my grandmother’s,” says Christopher Besse, who co-owns the estate with his mother and two siblings. “It was a time when the British were getting interested in this part of the world. My family lived here during the whole evolution of the Côte d’Azur.”
Le Paradou was built in the early 1900s by Besse’s grandfather, Sir Antonin Besse, a successful businessman and founder of St Antony’s College, Oxford. Once a winery with vineyards, the secluded Provence-style home, which includes a farmhouse, staff quarters and two guest cottages in 16 acres of grounds, has plenty of history. During the Second World War, there was “a lot of activity to do with The Resistance”, says Besse. “There is a large water tunnel under the grounds where people were given shelter and hidden.”
In later years, the explorer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau became a regular visitor after Besse’s grandfather helped him out when he needed money for his research ship, Calypso. As a token of thanks, Cousteau gave him an Ionic column that now stands in the grounds.
Le Paradou is unused and needs renovation. Domaine de la Sauvagère, the larger of the two, is still lived in and in better condition.Set in a commanding position on top of the hill, the seven-bedroom house, which was built in the Sixties, is surrounded by almost 25 acres of grounds, with a three-bedroom guesthouse and a staff cottage.
“There are not many properties of this size available, particularly so close to Saint-Tropez and wonderful beaches of the Provence coast,” says Tim Swannie of Home Hunts.
Saint-Tropez is about nine miles away and, unlike much of the French Riviera, is not spoilt with over building. Admittedly, the sun-kissed resort made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the Fifties is now home to super yachts rather than fishing boats, but it is still surrounded by protected woods, olive groves and vineyards. It is, says Nigel Hindle of Nice-based buying agency Hindle and Baldock, “the perfect distillation of the South of France”.
While the property market around Saint-Tropez has not returned to its heady pre-2008 levels, it has picked up a little, says Hindle. “Well-priced and positioned houses are selling and there is demand, albeit price sensitive and discerning,” he says.
According to the latest figures from the Notaires de France, property sales across France were nine per cent higher last October than a year earlier.
Homes that attract most interest are villas costing between €2 million and €5.5 million. Inland is as popular as the coast, providing the homes are “discrete and private,” says Hindle.
Despite Noël Coward’s assertion that it is “a sunny place for shady people”, the French Riviera has never really lost its allure. Buyers come from all over the world, including Britain, to enjoy fun in the sun, preferably in a well-appointed home.
Villa Salmanazar ticks almost every box. The nine-bedroom home, which has additional staff accommodation, is on the market with Christie’s International Real Estate for €19.9 million. It is as opulently furnished as it is discretely situated, about six miles south of Saint-Tropez, with a wisteria-covered outdoor dining area, a deck with fire pit, and a large swimming pool. The property is “approached by helicopter”, the listing reads, “or by car along a quiet rural lane through picturesque vineyards”.
For those who prefer an urban setting, Knight Frank is marketing a stylish townhouse in the centre of Saint-Tropez for €3.2 million. The property overlooks a scenic square; each guest bedroom has a private balcony and the master suite has a sun terrace with views over the rooftops of the iconic church tower and far out to sea.